Seaing simplicity

Sea Wall (That Production Company)

Metro Arts

June 22 – 25

There is an essential simplicity to That Production Company’s multi-award nominated, critically acclaimed production of “Sea Wall”, beyond just it being a one-man show. Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre staging is appropriately the most unassuming it has ever been, for a beautiful and brutal show that is all about its words and a disarmingly powerful performance from Steven Rooke as a character whose life has similarly been stripped bare.

There is an endearing everyman-ness to photographer Alex as he tells us about ex British infantry solider Arthur, who we discover is his wife Helen’s father and therefore grandpop to now-eight-year-old Lucy, as well as being a key player in the tragic events that beset Alex’s most recent annual family visit to Arthur’s home in a French seaside village.

Near to the village is the terrifying sea wall of the show’s title, running under the ocean, deceptively near the shore, which also serves as a symbol for how Alex’s life has been shattered. We learn more slowly as the story progresses in monologue form, craftedly transitioning from anecdotal frivolity to tension filled trauma, largely due to the accomplishment of its script, penned by award-winning writer Simon Stephens (Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time) for Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Fleabag).

Effective writing, it is said, comes from showing not telling through the smallest of details and “Sea Wall” is a masterclass in this, using potent imagery and evocative language to precise effect, whether in exploration of domestic dilemmas of market vs supermarket merits or in recall of the routines of relationships, as much as its bigger picture contemplations courtesy of recalled conversations about god and the need for reason. Early in the show, Alex explains the importance of capturing the humanness of portrait subjects through light. It is just one line, yet it perfectly captures the essence of what is a provocative piece of theatre in its expose of the despair that runs deep after a tragic life-changing event.

Directed with assurance by Timothy Wynn, “Sea Wall” is a tight show of less than hour running time, but that’s all Rooke needs to captivate audience members to moved, emotional responses. Pace and pause are used compellingly, including to allow us to sit in the deliberate discomfort of its confronting descriptions of events one day in France, as much as the poignancy of its protagonist’s pain. Alex’s conversational style is enhanced by all range of natural gestures, movement about the stage space and rhetorical questions delivered by Rooke like they are aimed directly at you. It’s a sophisticated performance enhanced by Sound Designer Brady Watkins’ subtle soundscape

“Sea Wall” is a stunning show whose return, Brisbane season is set to be over all too soon. This is a moving, intimate piece of theatre that illustrates how one actor can hold an audience spellbound. Indeed, its power derives from the strength of its solo performance, making it a must-see for those yet to have the privilege.

Photo c/o – Tom Antonio

Call to climate arms

Kill Climate Deniers (That Production Company)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

May 15 – 22

61122890_10156335308758603_4092036464995467264_o

If you haven’t heard of “Kill Climate Deniers” you probably should have. The hyperbolically titled play’s controversial take on the contentious climate change debate in Australia saw it hit the headlines in 2014 when its playwright David Finnigan received $19 000 from Arts ACT to write a play exploring climate change and Australian politics. The resulting script was nominated for the 2014 Max Afford National Playwrights Award, but its initial staging was postponed due to a backlash by conservative columnists. It’s initial and subsequent drafts compositing the scandal into the work, are discussed amongst the show’s many meta-theatre mentions, mostly by Finig (a pseudonym for playwright David Finnigan), played by Caitlin Hill.

61114099_10156335310063603_4045683863677042688_o.jpg

It does not take too long to move into the show’s narrative call to climate arms of sorts; embattled Environment Minister Gwen Malkin (Jessica Veurman) is being interviewed on talkback radio about her intricate $75 billion climate scenario option plan to blot out the sun by using helium balloons that spray light-blocking gasses into the atmosphere. The interviews continue that evening when she arrives at Parliament House with her social-media savvy press advisor Bekken (Charleen Marsters) for a classic rock band’s concert.

61098731_10156335321873603_7866504216355799040_n.jpg

As everyone settles in for the evening’s entertainment a militant cell of radical eco-activists, led by passionate spokeswoman Catch (Julie Cotterell) takes the audience hostage with demand that Australia immediately cease all carbon emissions and coal exports. Malkin and Bekken, however, have gone to the bathroom so are oblivious to what’s happening… until they start running into terrorists in the halls and the action really begins (Fight Choreographer Jason McKell).

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan_THAT Prod Co_Production Image by Adam Finch Photography_3.jpg

So many aspects combine to ensure the inventive satire’s on-stage success. Its boldness beyond just its political themes is reflected in its perfectly-pitched performances. The duo of Veurman and Marsters as Malkin and Bekken make for a wonderful comic team of the “Absolutely Fabulous” sort. Together, they craft some hilarious scenes. Veurman is captivating in conveyance of her character’s nervous energy, and Marsters injects energetic humour into every movement, gesture and facial expression of hapless personal assistant (more than just press advisor) Bekken. Caitlin Hill is brilliant as the narrator/author Fing, presenting an explanation of the work that paces along despite its scientific dabbles and balances this beautifully with the absurdity of her play of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ if Fleetwood Mac was a character in and of itself. Of particular note, too is Clementine Anderson who presents a perfectly pitched performance in over-the-top media personality caricature.

60762476_10156335312918603_247304612040671232_o.jpg

“Kill Climate Deniers” is dynamic in both form and execution. Its clever staging sees characters even performing a scene from with the stalls, projected to the alongside audience. Video projections (Projection Designer Justin Harrison) feature throughout as a key component of the show’s vibrant realisation. Words and images are projected on a curved back-of-stage wall, both to progress the narrative and provide additional statistics, quotes and visual jokes, often accompanied by a soundscape of either deliberate doom or satirical merriment (Composer & Sound Designer Wil Hughes).

60921876_10156335318128603_9174300527964454912_o.jpg

A scene in which an overhead projector is used to illustrate our envisaged personal potential futures 30 years from now, however, represents the show’s only unsatisfying section, when its presenter’s shadow blocks out most of the images, overwhelming its message. Colourful and camp in costuming, staging and music, “Kill Climate Deniers” is also, surprisingly irreverent, which makes its two hour experience fly by in what seems like the shortest of time. This is helped too by its fast and furious soundtrack of classic techno dance tunes of the C+C Music Factory and Black Box sort.

60763622_10156335323828603_6816653985458421760_o.jpg

“Kill Climate Deniers” may not be good politics, as some have claimed of its previous productions, but good art is not necessarily good politics and “Kill Climate Deniers” is very good art. The complex, multi-layered thought-provoking political comedy showcases clever writing (not clichéd as so easily could have been the case), artfully infused with pop culture call-backs and even a Fleetwood Mac concert segment of sorts.

60909572_10156335310888603_4354359022892089344_o.jpg

This is must see theatre, not just because of its Queensland premiere status. Director Timothy Wynn has delivered first-rate, full throttle independent theatre of the sort rarely seen executed to this level of expertise. It is an exhilaratingly playful experience to take from and discuss what you will and it not only represents the best that Ipswich’s That Production Company has offered up thus far, but my most-loved show of the year yet, and favourite even experienced at Metro Arts.

Photos c/o – Adam Finch

Premiere poignancy

Yielding (That Production Company)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

May 2 – 5

31960780_10156517750948866_1744812541101473792_n.jpg

“Yielding” is an affecting show about relationships, which is fundamentally at the heart of all quality theatre. Dot was once bold, strong and in control of her life. Since she suffered a stroke while attempting to cut out her back-yard Bougainvillea she is still strong in mind, but has been betrayed by her body. Liz, Dot’s daughter, has since sacrificed her life and career to care for her mother. There is no colour left in their tumultuous lives now, reflected by the muted tones of the show’s staging and costumes, which also rightly allow the performances to be at the fore of the sensitive and daring production that arcs in and out of recollection and reflection as the duo endure a crappy car ride home from visit to the doctor.

Talented performers Jessica Veurman-Betts and Joey Kohnke give gripping performances as the mother and daughter duo, each grappling with their circumstances. Kohnke effectively takes us into the fractured and frightening world of the still-spirited stroke victim in her language and movement, bringing both pathos and humour to the tricky role. The show is a physical one, as the characters move around and with each other, but also as they ripple across the stage together in stylised dances of haunting lyricism. But is in their silences that so much is also said and Timothy Wynn’s skilful direction wisely allows them (and us) to endure in them. Through the rich performances of both actors, we don’t pity them so much as empathise with their unyielding desperation to be seen and hear above the frustration of seeing themselves, their homes and their relationships through a different lens.

32089539_10156517750983866_5979278647142383616_n.jpg

The play is also beautifully realised through a cohesive design aesthetic. Daniel Anderson’s lighting works in conjunction with a delicate soundscape to transition scenes in and out of present experience, warming merry memories of when their roles were long-ago reversed. Its honesty and simplicity are, likewise, revealed in the craftedness of its script. In particular, its ‘beautiful but thorny’ bougainvillea motif works well as a metaphor for each woman’s sense of self, once regarded as attractive but now just annoyingly scrapping the side of the house.

Developed in consultation with Carers Queensland by Queensland playwright Emma Workman, “Yielding” is the first in a series of six one-act plays under the banner ‘Let’s Speak of the Unspoken’. And it doesn’t shy away from tackling the realities of the experiences it is representing, with some ongoing references to euthanasia and suicide. Indeed, there is an obvious, appealing authenticity to the show, which comes from its research, including meetings with many Brisbane support groups and with people who have family carers in their homes.

In That Production Company’s careful hands, “Yielding” is a powerful, poignant, raw and uncomfortably real play that, on a number of occasions, sees absorbed audience members wiping away tears, perhaps in their own reflection on the reminder of what is important in life. As daughter Liz says early in the piece, “because she is my mum”. It’s a short but prevailing proclamation upon which the show’s premise so perfectly hangs, leaving audiences subdued upon exit from the theatre, weighed by the profoundness and performances just experienced in premiere of this remarkable piece of work.